The way the GOP has handled the Sarah Palin problem - from start to finish- says so much about what is wrong with the party.
Even now, as the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, heads toward the convention to be crowned (despite some serious concerns about his suitability) the Republican leadership seems to have learned nothing.
The mistakes began in the earliest stages of the Republican party’s Palin blunder. Palin’s rise from relative obscurity was a result of a strange mix of conservative opinion leaders. First there was the the Weekly Standard crowd. After meeting Palin during an Alaskan cruise, Fred Barnes returned to Washington and wrote a glowing review about Palin and what a fabulous politician. He now says:
I thought she was a brilliant choice as McCain's vice presidential running mate in 2008.
Yet, this is an extremely disingenuous remark. After all, the primary role as vice-president (at least until Dick Cheney re-crafted the position) is to step into presidency in the case of a president’s death or resignation. By endorsing Palin as vice-president, it automatically presumes the person is also qualified to be president.
In any case, Barnes lost interest in Palin after she resigned as governor of Alaska. Yet, he is still out there routinely giving political advice to the unwary.
Then there was another Alaskan cruise a couple of weeks later.which brought a crowd from the National Review - certainly a more influential conservative publication. Take a look at this quote from an October 2008 article by Rich Lowry about Palin's sex appeal:
Palin too projects through the screen like crazy. I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can’t be learned; it’s either something you have or you don’t, and man, she’s got it.
Now who could possibly question an analysis like that? It sounds as if somebody couldn't tell the difference between flirtation and political competency. The above paragraph could have been scribbled by a hormonal teenager about his "hot" new teacher.
Investigative reporter Jane Mayer, who wrote a New Yorker Magazine article, "The Insiders: How John McCain Came to Pick Sarah Palin" explains the reaction from others:
As Jack Fowler, National Review’s publisher, recalled it… “This lady is something special. She connects. She’s genuine. She doesn’t look like what you’d expect. My thought was, Too bad she’s way up there in Alaska, because she has potential, but to make things happen you have to know people.”
But by the time the campaign was in full swing, its reporters were sounding the alarms. By then, the SS McCain was going full steam ahead straight into the iceberg.
Another even more unlikely source for the Palin support came from blogger Adam Brickley. Like Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, James O’Keefe, Jeff Gannon, Senator Mitch McConnell, Congressman Mike Pence,, Brickley is a product of the Leadership Institute, a conservative 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Arlington, Virginia that teaches "political technology.". (This is an organization that deserves its own post.)
In any case, Brickley set up a blog called Sarah Palin for Vice President after searching for a female vice-presidential candidate that could effectively challenge Clinton. From the New Yorker article:
In February, 2007, Adam Brickley gave himself a mission: he began searching for a running mate for McCain who could halt the momentum of the Democrats. Brickley, a self-described “obsessive” political junkie who recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, told me that he began by “randomly searching Wikipedia and election sites for Republican women.
Brickley had stumbled across the enthralled reviews of Palin and set to work promoting her. Eventually this was picked up by other conservative blogs, given even greater attention by conservative radio, Rush Limbaugh and the American Spectator, and conservative magazines.
There was a kind of informational loop that prevented impartial or adequate vetting of the candidate and by the time McCain and his advisors heard of Palin, there was already a kind of faux groundswell, created by blogs and magazines, and radio show hosts.
Lesson 1. When it came to making crucial decisions, the Republican Party never questioned the judgment of their advisers or backgrounds of their sources.
Oddly, as the vice-presidential choice, Palin was an outsider specifically approved by groups of insiders. That seems to spoil the whole idea of the outsider, especially when the insiders want total control over the results.
And that was part of Palin’s frustration as a vice-president. She was chosen as an outsider, bringing fresh air to a stagnant system, and then was told to take instructions from the same people creating the corrupted system. And as much as one might dislike Palin or her ideas, that contradiction did not belong to her.
Here’s one example: Among the National Review crowd, there was one political insider that took Palin under his wing. The once disgraced Clinton aide- turned political consultant, Dick Morris was one of Palin’s earliest supporters, Jane Mayer says:
And, in fact, Dick Morris sort of pulled her aside for a private conversation, which she then revealed later to the group, in which he said, "If you want to be successful politically, you've got to continue to hold onto your image as an outsider. Play up that outsider thing."
This cynical approach to politics has led the Republican party astray time and time again. In fact, Candidate Romney’s weakness is that his packaging, crafted by the unseen hands of a hundred image consultants, simply doesn’t match his history. Mitt's solution has simply been to lie, to call it "evolving" and to try to hide the evidence. Comedians have made the accurate observation that Romney greatest challenger is Romney of 2008. (or Romney of 1994)
If there is one idea that appeals to Americans, whether Republican or Democratic, more than any other is individualism. It’s true that personal style can transfix voters but ultimately, the complications of the issues, the details of legislative battles will fade from the voter’s mind and what is left is the character of the individual. A candidate who is their own person is important to voters. It’s not the cover, it’s the content. It’s not the package, it’s the principles.
Lesson 2. No matter how attractive the style and appearance may be, these simply cannot replace substance.
McCain’s decision to chose Palin over his first choice, Joe Leiberman, appears to have been based more on demographic voting blocs rather than sound politics. Like many conservatives, McCain was convinced that Hilary Clinton supporters would turn away from Obama when he was nominated and that, when he chose Biden as his running mate, women would petulantly reject the Democrats altogether. It was cynical and it was based on the incorrect premise that women voters would vote for a woman no matter what her political views were.
We see this time and time again. This election is no different. The incessant polling perpetuates this myth. None of the demographic factors will supersede the character of the candidate.
Progressives, independents and even undecided voters are all much more prepared to examine candidates on an individual basis, judging the candidates on their character.
We can be assured that the Republican party are, even now, having learned nothing from the Palin debacle, are basing their selection of Romney’s vice president on which demographic group he or she will most appeal to. Of course, there will be deep checks into possible scandals lurking in the shadows of the candidates’ past. That will probably be the only considerations.
Lesson 3. People cannot be represented solely in demographic terms. Voters’ decisions are based on factors more complex than the Republicans think.
To the surprise of McCain and his campaign staff, Palin proved impossible to manage. It soon became apparent that not only was Palin an inappropriate choice, she was downright unstable. Behind the scenes, some people had already understood that Palin had no business being that close to the executive position (even as a vice-presidential candidate.)
All of this inside information came out later, of course, and then, only when staffers wrote their respective versions of events. For profit and not because their consciences prevailed.
And yet when it mattered, none of those insiders (including McCain himself), took the necessary steps to resolve this admittedly difficult problem. Nevertheless there were opportunities to deal with Palin. Real leadership- which escaped John McCain- could have taken that step and asked her to withdraw her name. Instead what happened?
They allowed her go rogue and hoped that, despite her provocation of the crowds and the animosity she was stirring, they could continue to reap the rewards. In turn, she hijacked McCain’s campaign and turned off many undecided voters with her extremism and her general lack of knowledge.
Lesson 4. When faced with the difficult decisions regarding Palin, the Republican party chose cowardice and the short term advantages rather than face the potential for long term danger for the nation. Putting party first is not in the best interests of the nation.
After the 2008 election, Sarah Palin continued to influence the Republican Party in a number of ways. The influence was further amplified by Fox News, (namely by Hannity and Van Sustersen) which gave her a platform to voice her opinions without any kind of challenge or critique. In the same, Palin used Facebook and twitter to fire salvos from behind her castle walls.
Very few in the party questioned Palin’s right to pass judgement. Few asked the legitimate question: Why is this person’s opinion so important? In the end, the news organization were even mistaking McCain's daughter as some kind authority on politics.
Instead they allowed Palin to promote her Tea Party agenda into the mid-terms of 2010. Even then, the Republican leadership said nothing. Their idea was that anything that hurt Obama had to be good for the Republican party. Again it was all for the sake of short term advantages.
The fallout of that decision, however, has been the 112th Congress which has had the lowest approval rating in US history. And Republican-led obstructionism may have thwarted the president’s every move but it is also likely to lead to a revolt against the Republicans in the upcoming election. People, no matter how they might feel about Obama, are for the most part even more sick of the cynical strategies of the Republicans.
Lesson 5. Sometimes it is necessary to condemn in unambiguous terms the actions and the opinions of those in your own party. It’s called leadership. Silence amounts to consent.
Up until the mid term elections of 2010, the Republican leadership tolerated Palin’s constant intrusions. With fingers crossed, it assumed she would not make a run for the presidency and their good fortune held, much to the dismay of Palin’s die-hard supporters. The GOP leaders assumed that Palin was in it just for the money and it’s true SarahPAC conned a lot of people into donating to her mythic campaign.
There was a price to pay for Palin going free range. The Daily Beast notes:
But Palin continued to vex Romney’s candidacy, questioning his conservatism, encouraging the non-Romneys still in the race, and publicly cheering for the prospect of an open convention. Even after Romney clinched the race in late spring, Palin remained pointedly hesitant about the presumed Republican nominee. She has not yet extended to Romney her full endorsement, and, while she speaks animatedly of the urgency of defeating President Obama in November, her support for Romney derives from the fact that Romney meets Palin’s threshold qualification—as “anybody but Obama.”
Yet that shaky support, that carefully expressed doubt does indeed represent what a lot of Republican voters think about Romney. How conservative is he? If he is what he says he is, why does he have to flip-flop, to withhold or destroy evidence, and well- to lie? What is he hiding? What does he represent? Can he beat Obama?
All those perfectly legitimate questions are ones that the Republican party fears will lead to dissension at the convention. And strict party unity without any disagreement has been Republican party’s greatest strength. Without it, some say, and the party will never be able to hold all of the fringe elements under the same umbrella. The tent poles will collapse on the whole circus.
Lesson 6. Problems- like Sarah Palin and the Tea Party in general- do not go away just because you ignore them.
Even now the Republican Party has failed to deal with their Palin creation. At this point, it’s not an easy situation to resolve, of course. They have come to the conclusion that ignoring Palin and the Tea Party is the best way to go. Shutting her out is their last option.
Indeed she has fallen very far since the cheery day she spoke at the Republican National Convention. Now she is apparently a persona non grata for Romney who clearly wishes that woman would just go away (but is too much of a coward to say that.) At the moment she is little more than a nervous joke for Republicans heading to Tampa.
Her name- if it is mentioned at all- is now related to a look-a-like stripper who will doing a tour of strip joints in Tampa during the convention. She- not Sarah, is attracting a lot more interest among the delegates apparently. As one source tells us:
"Hands down, the Republicans have always been our best customers," Association of Club Executives Executive Director Angelina Spencer recently told WFAE. "We get clients from all walks of life, but for whatever reason... I have heard club owners say, 'Boy, those Republicans really are great customers.'"
She says it’s not that there are more Republicans at the clubs. It’s that they have more to spend.
Of course they do. That's what the Bush tax cuts were all about.
The leadership of the GOP is pinning their hopes on the possibility that voters will hate Obama more than dislike Romney. That’s pretty much all they have to run on.
How the Republican Party treats Palin now says so much about how the party actually thinks about people and especially women. Something to be used, something to be put up with, with all the headaches and to endure the nagging (at least while the advantage lasts). But as soon as the advantage becomes a liability, she is promptly never to be mentioned again. Phones calls will not returned. Right now, Palin has become the locker room joke, the sad fate of the promiscuous cheerleader.
And we all know what the next step is. The greatest of all Republican Palin fears. The scorned bitch out for revenge. Palin hasn't stepped into this role.. yet.
Many Tea Party conservatives have noticed this ill-treatment too. American Thinker just the other pointed out the Republican betrayal of Palin in an article:
This is a little perplexing to Americans who now hear what some members of the GOP are saying about Sarah Palin. Joe Scarborough recently advised the party to avoid "the perils of Palin." An unnamed Romney adviser claims she "poisoned the well" for women in the GOP. A New Hampshire paid politico and 2008 state Republican Party chairman believes that Palin was the "error of 2008."With the possibility of a rogue Palin crashing the party and turning the Tampa Convention on its head, former vice-president Dick Cheney commented about McCain’s selection of Palin on ABC News.
"That one, I don't think was well handled.""I like Governor Palin. I've met her. I know her. She - attractive candidate. But based on her background, she'd only been governor for, what, two years. I don't think she passed that test...of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake."
A vice-president “taking over” the presidency is certainly something Dick Cheney is qualified to speak about. Still, it took four years for him to say even this and even now, many conservatives are shocked that he could make such a statement.
On the surface, this remark by Cheney is telling. Either the party is unable to move forward since 2008, still unable to accept their mistakes or... the Republican elites are passing a message to Palin. "You were a mistake. You are not welcome. You are yesterday's news. Lose our number. Get lost, Scram. Good-bye already."
McCain is apparently still in denial. He recently said that naming Sarah Palin his running mate was "still the best decision I've ever made." Quite possibly true, but that's a shameful thing to have to confess so late in his career.
Lesson 7. When mistakes are made, a coward hesitates, a liar denies, and an idiot continues on the wrong path. Real leadership possesses the strength of character to admit the mistake, do everything he or she can to rectify the problem or to prevent it from happening again and then moves on quickly.
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The nightmare scenario for the Republicans, is Palin the rogue rearing her head in Florida completely uninvited. She has, according to sources, has not been asked to speak at the convention. Nobody has contacted her about even attending the events. she has been cast aside.
Palin does not seem surprised. “What can I say?” she responded in an email from Alaska, when asked by Newsweek about the convention, just before heading to Michigan to deliver an Obama-thumping speech. “I’m sure I’m not the only one accepting consequences for calling out both sides of the aisle for spending too much money, putting us on the road to bankruptcy, and engaging in crony capitalism.”Even now the Republican leadership wants to forget the whole Palin fiasco and it is up to Palin herself if she chooses to let them.